E262: Simone Mueller - "Predation in Dogs"

Often referred to as dogs that "chase," predation in dogs can be frustrating — Simone and I talk about what's really going on and what you can do about it. 


Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today I have Simone Mueller here with me to talk about her training journey and predation training.

Hi Simone, welcome to the podcast!

Simone Mueller: Hi Melissa. Thank you very much for having me.

Melissa Breau: I'm excited to chat. To start us out, do you want to share a little bit about you, any current pets, and what you're working on with them?

Simone Mueller: At the moment, I live with four pets all in all. I have two cats and I have two dogs, and I guess you want to know about the dogs specifically.

The dogs I have at the moment are two Australian Shepherds, Nanook and Isla. Nanook is already 12 years old, his birthday was last Saturday, and Isla is now 3 years old. We do a little bit of everything basically, nothing particular.

I enjoy as a hobby doing some nosework, some scent detection with them, but to be honest, my dogs are not the best-trained pets in the world. As long as everything is fine when we're out and about, and everybody is okay and we're having a good time together, I think this is the main goal of just living together basically.

Melissa Breau: I can hear that. How did you end up in the dog world?

Simone Mueller: The reason I ended up in the dog world is my first dog, Malinka. I had her in 2002, and she was a work in progress. This is the reason why I became interested in predation training, because when we were out, she was really excited and she was trying to hunt anything and everything that was moving. Even if there was nothing and we just had a little crack in the bushes, she was already on alert. She was the one who brought me on this training journey.

Melissa Breau: Just to talk a little bit more about you as a trainer, do you consider yourself a positive trainer? If so, is that where you started out? Did you become a positive trainer? Tell me about that.

Simone Mueller: I regard myself as a positive trainer, even though we don't have these clear distinctions in Germany. I only heard about those names, like balanced dog training and positive dog training and any other distinctions that there are, when I was in the English-speaking training world.

But I regard myself as a positive trainer, and it just happened somehow. When I started my dog trainer education, I was really lucky to do this at an institute where science-based, force-free, and positive dog training was taught, and this is how I finally got there.

Melissa Breau: How would you describe your current training philosophy and your approach to training?

Simone Mueller: My current training philosophy, I try to teach things as much as possible through games, because I have met the experience when people come to my training and they have been to several trainers before, and their dog is a big hunter, and everybody is quite tense and demotivated and a little bit depressed, because people really suffer when their dogs do things that they shouldn't do.

Then what the people lack, and what they should find again, is that dog training should be fun, because the dogs feel the mood that you are in. When you are training with them and you have fun and everything is a little bit lighter, then we have more success.

This is something that I find really important, to bring the joy into dog training again. This improves the whole relationship that people have with their dogs. When they come to me, joy is something that they are lacking.

Melissa Breau: So you focus on it as a key piece of the training process overall in the building the relationship piece. Is that getting at what you're saying?

Simone Mueller: Yes, exactly. It's the relationship, and the relationship should be lighthearted. They should find the joy in training again, and the joy of being with their dog and being out with their dog, and not just being afraid of what is going to happen next.

Melissa Breau: It's hard when you get into that mind-space. I wanted to talk a little about predation-related things, since that's your focus. Let's start with the basics. What is predation, to start with?

Simone Mueller: Predation is something that is so important to our dogs. When you think about the motivations that our dogs have in their daily lives, it's normally that they want to meet other dogs, they want to socialize, or they want to hunt. It's something that is crucial for their self-understanding and for their being.

It's also something that is quite tough for people, because it is so important for our dogs, and it feels so good, that the dogs want to repeat it over and over again. This is when people are in despair when they're out and about with their dogs.

The problem with predation is that when people come to me, normally they say, "My dog chases something." They chase rabbits, or they chase cars, or they chase cats, or whatever. Predation is much more than just the chase. If you have a look at the predatory motor pattern, it starts way before the chase. It starts with orientation in the environment. The dog puts their nose down, or they put their nose high up in the air, or they can the environment — is there something to hunt?

The moment they have found something that might be of interest, they go into a stalk, or for a Border Collie normally they call it "the eye" when they stare at something. What happens next is they start to creep forward and they want to bridge the gap between themselves and the wild animal, and only when they are close enough so they think now it's worth trying to chase, then they go into the chase.

This is the moment when people realize, "Oh my God, now we are in trouble. My dog is hunting." But you can see that before that there was quite a long time when people didn't realize that their dog is already in hunting mode, and they still had time to do something about it, but they didn't realize it, so they didn't do anything. And then the dog is chasing, and then we're in trouble.

The predatory motor pattern goes on after the chase if the dog is, let's call it lucky, and catches the prey animal. Then they will grab bite and they will kill bite and eventually will dissect and eat, and then the predatory motor pattern has come to an end.

Of course, our dogs that are bred for a certain task, most of our dogs do not go through the whole motor pattern. Some parts of the motor pattern have been highlighted and some have been completely bred out, because we as humans don't want them. Imagine a hunting dog who is not only helping his hunter, but also eating the prey. In the end, this is what the human wants to do.

So parts of this motor pattern have been bred out, but still there are parts of them that they want to perform. Predation is self-rewarding or intrinsically reinforcing, which means that it feels super-good for our dogs. They release a lot of dopamine, they release a lot of endorphins, and it feels like doing drugs for them, so you can really say that predation makes the dogs high.

Melissa Breau: And they can get addicted to it.

Simone Mueller: Yes, definitely. This is a problem.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned that part of what got you interested in this was your first dog. Can you tell me a little more about that?

Simone Mueller: When I got her in 2002, this was the very beginning of the force-free interpretation protocols in Germany, but at that time I didn't know about it. I went to several dog clubs because this was the only thing that was available at that time in my area, and they taught me, "You have to make yourself more interesting for your dog."

I never got how to do that, and this is still something that happens today that people come to me totally in despair, saying, "I know I have to be more interesting for my dog, but he's not interested in my toys and in my treats when we're out and about." This is so unfair, because how can you, as a human, be more interesting than something to hunt? It is hardwired in our dogs to find this super-interesting.

This was the same with my first dog. So I was there, screaming, shouting, waving with my toy, and she just went off. I remember one day, when I was at home in my shower, crying over this, because there was another thing I was told: "If you can't make yourself super-interesting for your dog, then the relationship is not good." This is so harsh if you hear something like this, because you question all the relationship with your dog: I am not good enough for my dog, I am not interesting enough, we have not a good relationship with each other. But how can we do it better? How can we do it differently? This was really hard.

Maybe we have to add that in Germany it is forbidden to use shock collars or e-collars in dog training, so this was not an option.

I went to several trainers and no one could really help me. Then I came across the first book on this topic, I think it was in 2008, and this was really a game-changer. When you read that, it's a whole different perspective on predation, on how to work with your dogs so that instead of working against the predatory instinct, you use the predatory instinct to work with the predator instinct and you are a part of their hunting experience, and it changes anything.

Melissa Breau: Tell me a little more about that. You've written books on it at this point. Can you share a little more about how you approach it? What does that look like?

Simone Mueller: The first book that I read on this, I was astonished that these protocols are not wide-known in the English-speaking dog-training world, because in Germany we have several books on this topic. I said, "We have to do something against that. We have to improve the situation."

So I wrote my first book. I never thought that I could write a book, but it turned out quite easily for me because I just put all the things that I learned during my dog training education in this little book. The approach is basically that you structure your training into four parts.

The first part is management. You try to keep your dog from hunting in the first place. There is so much more you can do than just putting your dog on a leash and staying on the path. There are things you can do about arousal. You can teach your dog to be calmer outside.

The second part is that you have tools for when you are in the situation with your dog, when you encounter wildlife. You teach your dog calmness around wildlife and what they can do instead of chasing. You teach them an alternative that is still functional. Functional means it serves the same function, so the dog can still stay in this predatory sequence and experience all the nice hormones that are released into their body. They have this nice experience that they have when they are hunting, but without chasing. Therefore you take the predatory motor pattern and you divide it into two parts — into safe parts that the dog can perform together with you and unsafe parts that we cannot allow our dogs to perform.

The third part of predation substitute training is that you play games with your dog, because the unsafe parts of the predatory motor pattern, such as grabbing and ripping things apart and dissecting and chasing, our dogs still have those needs. They do not know that we live in a world where it's not appropriate to hunt deer or rabbit. We give them these experiences through games. I'm very, very sure that our dogs know that it is just a game and it's not the real stuff.

I compare it to sugar-free versions of predation. I like Coke, for example, and I like the real Coke, but I can't have it every day because it's not healthy, a lot of sugar, blah, blah, blah. So what I do is I drink some Diet Coke, the sugar-free version. After that, I'm not thirsty anymore, I have that nice little Coke taste, but I know it's not the real stuff.

It's the same with our dogs. I'm sure that they know that games are games and the real stuff is the real stuff. But they are so cooperative with us humans, and they enjoy doing things with us together so much, that they do the sugar-free version with us.

The fourth part is a super-strong interrupter that needs to be built and scaffolded really, really well to work even in the moment when the dog is in full chase. This is a chore, this is hard work to build this, but it can be achieved.

Melissa Breau: I love that. It's broken down into four pieces. Quickly again, can you name them all for me?

Simone Mueller: The first is management and prevention. The second one is the predation substitute tools that you use in real life situations. The third one are the predation substitute games. And then we have the interrupter, the recall basically.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. All of this you're going to go into a whole lot more depth for us during the webinar that's coming up on the 24th called "Harness Your Hunter with Force-Free Predation Substitute Training." Talk to me a little bit about what's in the webinar and what people can expect.

Simone Mueller: In the webinar we are covering three of these four aspects. First of all, I'm going to explain what predation is and why it is so hard to interrupt for us humans, and why it makes no sense to struggle against those needs that our dogs have.

I'm going to give people practical stuff that they can use when they are out and about with their dogs, so that the moment they have finished the webinar, they can just start.

We are going to talk about two measures that you can take in order to manage your dog when you're out and about, so that they do not feel the need to hunt that strong and they do not get the opportunity to stumble across wildlife.

We are going to talk about two predation substitute tools. We are going to talk about scanning and stalking, how you teach your dog to perform safe parts of the predatory sequence instead of the unsafe chase.

In terms of games, we are going to do three games together. I will share three games: one for a chaser, one for a stalker, and another game that any dog will enjoy.

This is basically it, because the fourth part of the predation substitute training — the recall, the interrupter, or stopping the dog in front of wildlife — this is such a big topic, the webinar would go on for another hour, so I left this out.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. Who might want to consider signing up for this? Who is the ideal person to sit and watch?

Simone Mueller: I think I have the dog owner in mind that has a dog that is interested in things outside. So rather moderate prey drive, I think this is when you have the biggest success.

If you have a dog with a large prey drive and a massive prey drive, you can still do this training, of course, but I think the webinar will not be enough for you. There should be some more in-depth analysis of the behavior and why it is going on in such a strong way, because there are so many factors involved that might cause super-strong prey drive, like health issues going on, or some stress at home that the dog finds relief when they're out and about in hunting behavior.

But let's say a normal predatory behavior, a healthy, moderate form of predatory behavior, when you have a dog with this, then the webinar might already be a very good starting point where you can work on, and maybe this will be enough for you and your dog. This might be all that you need.

Melissa Breau: To round out our chat, one last question for you. If we were to drill down what we've been talking about today into one key piece of information or a key takeaway that you really want listeners to understand, what would it be?

Simone Mueller: I think you can make your life much easier if you understand that predation is something that makes our dogs super-happy and that they enjoy so much. It's not necessary to interrupt anything and everything that has to do with predation. You can enjoy this together with your dog in a safe and healthy way.

Once you have changed your perspective to put the focus on the more cooperative parts, then you see predation through totally different eyes. You don't see it as a hassle anymore that you have to stop and that you have to get rid of. Yu see it as a kind of hobby that you can do together and as a kind of bond that grows between you and your dog.

Melissa Breau: I love that. It flips on its head what you were saying earlier about you were having a rough relationship; let's use this to show how much relationship you really do have.

Simone Mueller: Exactly.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. Thank you, Simone, so much for coming on the podcast. This has been fantastic.

Simone Mueller: Thank you very, very much for having me tonight, Melissa. I'm looking forward to the webinar and I'm looking forward to the Q&A afterwards. People can ask me questions after the webinar, and I'm really excited about that.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in.

We'll be back next week with several of our TEAM judges to talk about a soon-to-be-released new TEAM program.

If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.


Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in — and happy training!


Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training! 

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